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How IS built its terror machinery in Europe

The neighborhood in Paris that was home to Reda Hame, a French citizen who, according to interrogation records, was trained by the Islamic State Group to strike in Europe.   | Photo Credit: PIERRE TERDJMAN

The day he left Syria with instructions to carry out a terrorist attack in France, Reda Hame (29), a computer technician from Paris, had been a member of the Islamic State for just over a week.

His French passport and his background in IT made him an ideal recruit for a rapidly expanding group within IS that was dedicated to terrorising Europe. Over just a few days, he was rushed to a park, shown how to fire an assault rifle, handed a grenade and told to hurl it at a human silhouette. His accelerated course included how to use an encryption program called TrueCrypt, the first step in a process intended to mask communications with his IS handler back in Syria.

The handler, code-named Dad, drove Hame to the Turkish border and sent him off with advice to pick an easy target, shoot as many civilians as possible and hold hostages until the security forces made a martyr of him.

“Be brave,” Dad said, embracing him.

Hame was sent out by a body inside the IS that was obsessed with striking Europe for at least two years before the deadly assaults in Paris last November and in Brussels this month.

Officials now say the signs of this focused terrorist machine were readable in Europe as far back as early 2014. Yet, local authorities repeatedly discounted each successive plot, describing them as isolated or random acts.

Hame was arrested in Paris last August, before he could strike, one of at least 21 trained operatives who succeeded in slipping back into Europe. Their interrogation records offer a window into the origins and evolution of an IS branch responsible for killing hundreds of people in Paris, Brussels and beyond.

European officials now know that Dad, Hame’s handler, was none other than Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian operative who selected and trained fighters for plots in Europe and who returned himself to oversee the Paris attack last year.

For much of 2012 and 2013, the jihadist group that eventually became the IS was putting down roots in Syria.

One of the first clues that the IS was getting into the business of international terrorism came at 12:10 p.m. on Jan. 3, 2014, when the Greek police pulled over a taxi in the town of Orestiada, less than four miles from the Turkish border. Inside was a 23-year-old French citizen named Ibrahim Boudina, who was returning from Syria. In his luggage, the officers found €1,500, and a French document titled “How to Make Artisanal Bombs in the Name of Allah.”

But there was no warrant for his arrest in Europe, so the Greeks let him go, according to court records detailing the French investigation.

Boudina was already on France’s watch list, part of a cell of 22 men radicalised at a mosque in the resort city of Cannes. When French officials were notified about the Greek traffic stop, they were already wire-tapping his friends and relatives. Several weeks later, Boudina’s mother received a call from a number in Syria. Before hanging up, the unknown caller informed her that her son had been “sent on a mission”, according to a partial transcript of the call.

The police set up a perimeter around the family’s apartment near Cannes, arresting Boudina on Feb. 11, 2014.

It was not until nearly two years later that investigators revealed an important detail: Boudina’s Facebook chats placed him in Syria in late 2013, at the scene of a major battle fought by a group calling itself the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”

According to a brief by France’s domestic intelligence agency, he was the first European citizen known to have travelled to Syria, joined the IS and returned with the aim of committing terrorism. Yet his ties to the group were buried in French paperwork and went unconnected to later cases.

Including Boudina, at least 21 fighters trained by the IS in Syria have been dispatched back to Europe with the intention of causing mass murder, according to a Times count based on records from France’s domestic intelligence agency.

Like the killers in Paris and Brussels, all of these earlier operatives were French speakers — mostly French and Belgian citizens, alongside a handful of immigrants from former French colonies, including Morocco. The New York Times News Service

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Printable version | Oct 31, 2020 12:24:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news-service/How-IS-built-its-terror-machinery-in-Europe/article15466566.ece

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